How Even Moderate Noise Can Impact Lab Safety

Most researchers know that labs can be noisy. Between the sounds of the various instruments in the lab, other machinery, multiple conversations, HVAC systems, and other sounds, it can be difficult to hear yourself think, much less the soft “pop” that precedes a sudden lab safety issue or accident. But that’s not all. It turns out that even moderate noise levels can compromise lab safety, according to an Australian researcher.

Why Does Moderate Noise Matter?

Most work spaces tend to focus on the lab safety hazards that arise when noise is technically loud enough to cause physical damage to our ears. Certainly there are specific decibel measurements that, if exceeded in a lab environment, will have a physical impact on one’s hearing.

As part of last year’s Hearing Awareness Week, however, Catherine McMahon, head of audiology at Macquarie University’s Australian Hearing Hub, announced “Moderate [noise] levels which may not be damaging to hearing can increase stress, decrease motivation and therefore reduce workplace productivity.”

What Is Moderate Noise?

In terms of lab safety, what constitutes moderate noise can be subjective, which makes it more difficult for employers to address. Moreover, the trend toward open, collaborative workplaces, including modern offices and many labs, means that conversations and other everyday sounds from adjacent workstations are more prevalent than ever—and increasingly being recognized as potential contributors to noise safety problems. But each situation is different.

“Noise is a subjective parameter; therefore we need to assess how an individual reacts to sound and determine its effects on distractibility, stress and productivity,” said Professor McMahon. “Speech from an adjacent cubicle can be considered annoying if it is distracting others from working, which is not simply a matter of the level of an individual’s voice.”

When Annoyance Becomes a Lab Safety Concern

We may think that annoyance is simply something we must accept when working with others. However, when researchers are exposed to annoying noise on a daily basis, stress symptoms can develop. As we’ve discussed before, such stress can lead to sleep loss, cardiovascular disease and a host of related symptoms.

Unfortunately, commonly used remedies will not work in a lab situation. In an office setting, earplugs or music are often recommended to block out annoying noise, but in a lab, those solutions just aren’t as practical. For example, you need to be able to hear certain sounds or colleagues’ warnings in the event a problem arises. If you block out all noise, you will block out the sounds you most need to hear in case of an emergency or accident.

Addressing Noise Safety at the Source

Addressing noise safety concerns is a primary reason for the development of our IonBench MS. With its specially designed enclosures, we have reduced vacuum pump noise by a guaranteed 15 dBA—a 75 percent reduction. This allows researchers to work collaboratively, right next to the bench, without needing to raise their voices in a way that would annoy colleagues at other workstations. In this way, our dedicated lab furniture becomes a key component of an effective lab safety protocol.

To learn more about IonBench and our commitment to a low-stress and low-annoyance work environment, contact us today.